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Ask the Experts

My Child Needs Help With Friends

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My daughter is a happy-go-lucky 7-year-old. Today she had a friend over from school. My daughter was mean to this girl so she wanted to go home. I took her friend home and my daughter was very upset.

I always encourage my daughter to play fair, be kind and treat others like she wants to be treated. I don't want her to be a mean girl. She hasn't been invited to many birthday parties and isn't invited to friends' houses for play dates.

When I help out at the school I have seen her play happily with other children. She always wakes up happy and looks forward to school. Am I worrying over nothing or should I do something?

Answer:

It's terrific that you have such a happy daughter, and one who greets each day in a positive manner. Count yourself lucky that you are not among the parents whose children wake up grumpy each day! That being said, there are a few areas to explore before you decide whether or not you are "worrying over nothing."

First, what are you hearing about her school behavior from teachers at school? Though she appears to play well with other children when you are there as a volunteer, ask her teacher if there are any social concerns when you are not there. Ask if there are any concerns during less structured times, such as recess, lunch and P.E. Is she intrusive or bossy with peers? Are they rejecting her on the playground? If so, does she realize it or does she seem to be oblivious? Does she have any preferred playmates who prefer her or is she always the one who initiates play?

Ask about her academic performance. Is she achieving at the expected level for her age? Inquire if she's exhibiting any negative behaviors during classroom times, such as poor concentration, distractibility or difficulty focusing. Are there any subjects that are particularly difficult for her? Are her day-to-day scores consistent or is her performance variable (adequate one day, and poor the next)?

If any of the above issues are identified as problems, talk with her teacher and/or the school counselor about strategies to improve the situation. Your daughter may have a diagnosable difficulty such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which can show up not just with academics, but also with social skill problems. Many children with AD/HD have difficulties with peers, but are absolutely oblivious to how they come across and how others react to them. In fact, some will even boast about their abilities despite evidence to the contrary. If any of these issues seem to be the case for your daughter, a visit to your pediatrician can get you started on the road to evaluation, treatment and improvement.

On the other hand, your daughter may simply need more experience with peer interactions and play dates. Many parents are surprised to find that their usually well-behaved children have a hard time when playmates come over. They have a hard time sharing their toys, or coping with another child "intruding" on their home territory. Even though the child wants and looks forward to the play date, she finds herself threatened by another child using her toys and interacting with her family. Though this dynamic is more common in younger children, it is possible in this case, especially if your daughter hasn't had many opportunities to practice the skills she needs to build successful friendships.

If this is the case, consider arranging more (and more frequent) play dates. Enroll her in a team sport or activity, so that she's in a social activity fairly often. Educate yourself about social skills in children. This article may be helpful: Encouraging Social Skills in Young Children: Tips Teachers Can Share with Parents


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/12/2008:
"I found this article very informative. I will share this with other parents."
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